Not enough hours in the day…

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Many people studying with the Open University do so as they want to combine working and the commitments of everyday life, such as full time work or children, with working towards a degree which inevitably leads to periods throughout the academic year where you are very strapped for time. I thought I would share some of my tips for effective study with limited time. I have to admit when TMA deadline time approaches or there is a week with a heavy work load I am extremely envious of those who attended university full time as their ‘main’ commitment. However the Open University certainly develops your time management skills!

So, in no particular order, my study tips for those who have limited time to study:

1. Record yourself.
I have around 2 hours each morning and the same again on an evening where I am walking the dog and tending to my horse and so I record myself talking on my phone (I am pretty sure the majority of phones now have some sort of ‘voice recording’ app) and listen to it back through headphones. I record key terms, key arguments, revision material, chapter summaries etc.

2. Know what you need
I can only talk from a criminology and psychological studies perspective but for many of the modules I have completed thus far not all chapters have been relevant to either TMA’s or the exam. For instance DSE212 has a number of chapters which neither appear in the exam or are needed for TMAs and so if you are really starting to struggle with the reading they can theoretically be skipped all together. It’s important to know from the very beginning what material is necessary and for which purpose so you are aware as to which areas best to focus your time on.

3. Conclusions
Again DSE212 has ‘commentaries’ at the end of every chapter which are similar to a conclusion but slightly longer and split into different focus areas. Another tip for studying with limited time is to read the commentary or conclusion before you read the chapter. I often find that by reading these first you are able to determine which areas are important and therefore focus your attention on those particular areas when reading the entire chapter.

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4. Don’t be lazy
At the beginning of each week work out what you need to complete. That hour train commute before work can be used to read the DVD transcript, watch a video clip whilst doing the ironing, print out the activities for a week and break them down enabling you to do one on each of your lunch breaks. By splitting up your work load even those who have families and work full time are able to find small sections of the day which can be utilised.

5. Revise revise revise
I constantly hear people saying ‘don’t worry about the exam yet’ however if you are short of time or you know you may be nearer to revision time starting straight away is undoubtedly beneficial – even for those who aren’t strapped for time. I’m not talking about devising a rigorous revision time table to run alongside your module but adding things into a folder you may think will be helpful when the time to get stuck into revising does come around is great. Repeating key terms or spending a spare 45 minutes completing a question from a past exam paper. Don’t let yourself feel swamped towards to end of the module. If you have certain key terms to learn try and do a few a month, after all little and often and repetition benefit revision so much more than cramming anyway!

6. Take a Break
No matter how strapped for time or how much you love your subject everyone needs to take a break and this is where I have struggled in previous years. I would feel so guilty if I had an afternoon away from everything but sometimes it really is needed! I always feel motivated and fresh with new ideas when I have had a complete break. So hide those books and give yourself a break!

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What helps you to study effectively and how do you make best use of your time?

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